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January 5th, 2017

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Stunning (not depressing) study of a man with locked-in syndrome

Julian Schnabel 2008, France, 112 mins. in French with English subtitles

In 1995 the French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a massive stroke which left him with locked-in syndrome, mentally as capable as before but entirely paralysed except for some movement in one eyelid. Gradually, with the help of some very determined specialists, he learned to communicate by winking this eye and went on to "write" the autobiography on which this film is based. The result is unforgettable and not at all depressing -- rather, inspiring and uplifiting.

From a user review on Amazon:

Everything about this as a premise for a film sounds terrible - he does not move, so what is filmic about it; he does not communicate verbally, so where is the dialogue or the relationships; he reflects on his life and his mortality, but how do you show that?

Do not be put off. The film is beautifully made, turning faces into landscapes and using careful palettes of colour to distinguish pre- and post-stroke scenes. The film shows how Jean-Do becomes a cypher for those around him, providing meaning to their lives, even though inside he is still himself. In the end, the film is about the meaning of this man's life and all our lives, clear-eyed and fearless. It is moving without being sentimental or mawkish; and insightful, funny, beautiful and intelligent. An absolute must-see.